HELL ON FRISCO BAY is the story of a man obsessed with revenge.
The film is set in San Francisco and opens with Steve Rollins (ALAN LADD) leaving San Quentin prison and being met by his wife,Marcia(JOANNE DRU) and his cop friend Dan(WILLIAM DEMAREST).
Immediately we see and feel the pent up emotions of Rollins as he coldly says to Marcia,”I told you to get a divorce.”
All Steve wants to do is find out who framed him.
Dan tells him not to stir up trouble but Steve says,“I want trouble.I need it…when you’ve spent 5 years in the cage ,all you wanna do is find the lice that put you there.”
Steve immediately goes to the Bay area, asking questions but getting no answers. He passes a lot of fishing boats with the name, Amato on them.
EDWARD G. ROBINSON is Victor Amato,the totally ruthless king of the docks. He keeps Joe Lye(PAUL STEWART) under his thumb by blackmail. He seems to take pleasure in taunting Joe,especially when he finds out Joe is seeing a actress, Kay Stanley(FAY WRAY).
Amato calls her,“..that broken down movie star.”
Joe’s meek reply is,“She’s retired.”
Vic can’t let go,“Sensitive about that tomato,ain’t you.”
PERRY LOPEZ plays Amato’s ineffectual nephew,Mario, whom Amato’s wife Anna (RENATA VANNI) treats like a son.
ANTHONY CARUSO is a fisherman bringing up his son singlehandedly and when Steve pushes him for information, he reacts passionately,making it clear he will do nothing to endanger his son’s future.
Finally Rollins and Amato have the confrontation we have been waiting for . Amato tries to buy him off and when he refuses,Amato turns nasty,
“You do like you’re told or I’ll have your head blown off.”
Steve replies,“I’d like to kill you so badly, I can taste it.”
It’s a good plot,interesting characters and plenty of action.Alan Ladd isnt overshadowed by Eddie G.and the rest of the cast from Joanne Dru to Perry Lopez and a young Rod Taylor( as one of Amato’s enforcers) all perform well.
Several scenes are shot in San Francisco,but there are some very obvious back projection shots.
As much as I like this film, I have two problems with the plot.
Paul Stewart ,as the quiet gangster Joe Lye,is having a romance with a refined actress (Fay Wray). We are told they met through a friend. But the two characters come from such different walks of life, it is almost impossible to believe they would ever have met,let alone be about to marry. That said, Paul and Fay act well together.
The second story line that didnt add up for me is that of Rollins and his wife,Marcia.Apparently ,while in prison,Steve refused to see Marcia or answer her letters. As Marcia says, “Not a word from you in 3 years. I was lonely and miserable.”
It turns out Marcia had a brief affair, but she is still in love with Steve but his attitude is she betrayed him.
His only explanation to his friend,Dan(William Demarest) is ,“I made up my mind when I got out of prison ,I was going to find the guy who framed me – either kill or be killed.”
Dan responds,“And either way,Marcia ends up a widow.”
Joanne Dru( dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams) plays a night club singer. I liked the two songs she delivers ,”The very thought of You” and “It had to be you” – though it could well be argued these sequences hold up the action.
Alan Ladd has a nice line in deadpan delivery in one scene where he’s in a dance hall looking for Mario ( very well played by Perry Lopez). A hostess comes up to Alan and says,“Wanna improvise?”
He replies,“No thanks.”
She replies,”Why not,you slummin’ or square .”
His reply,“I got rheumatism.”
Made by Ladd’s company,Jaguar Productions, in Warnercolor, I hope HELL ON FRISCO BAY makes it to DVD .